Performance Enhancing Drugs – College Edition

Passing with Pills: Redefining Performance in the Pharmaceuticalized University”  is a very thoughtful and thought provoking ethnographic look in the mirror.  Tazin Karim of Michigan State University did an excellent job applying a critical, medical anthropological lens to academia and the pressures of the rite of passage in America referred to as college.  
When discussing the exportation/globalization of mental illness and Western pharmaceuticals, undergrads in both my Intro to Anthropology discussion sections admitted to knowing a ‘friends’ who used Academic Performance enhancing drugs …  I have to admit my own caffeine dependence could fall in the same category.  American culture in general gives preference to substances which promote productivity and the University is no exception.  A few of my students discussed being prescribed Ritalin and Adderall long before they entered a college campus.  One girl described for us how ease it had been for her best friend to get a prescription, which she used primarily to write papers and make it through finals week.  

I think this is a very serious issue which is largely ignored because it gets the desired results and is socially linked to productivity and achievement.  For my part, some might argue that I am part of the problem, as a graduate student and teaching assistant who was aware of these thinly veiled “confessions.”   But I am 25 years old which makes me only a few years older than most of my students and this time four years ago I was the undergrad who had close friends doing the same thing.  However, it also raises an important ethical issue.  This was information I gained from a semester of building rapport with my students and a safe environment for discussion in my classroom.  In that moment, I saw my responsibility in guiding my students to think critically about the social and structural pressures that make the need for academic performance drugs and in interrogating the problematic dichotomy between legal prescription drugs and illegal drugs.  I pushed them to critically think about any substance they put in their body and I urged them to be accountable for researching these medicines, their purpose and their side effects.  In that classroom, I felt that was the extent of my ability to influence the matter.

But as a medical anthropologist, I think this is definitely an issue which merits further investigation and careful attention to potential solutions that address this “inconvenient truth.”  Karim’s narratives demonstrate the hidden reality on our campuses.  I hope to see more work along these lines in the future.

 

OpenSource-Capitalism

While it is frequently difficult to identify paradigm shifts as they are happening, I believe I stumbled upon one tonight.  My boyfriend, Greg Wright, was telling me about this fascinating new project he discovered that will allow people to interact and play RPGs online in the dynamic new way in a world that is ultimately the players creation.  He found this project through a fascinating site called kickstarter, which allows people to share their creative new projects and to follow and fund creative projects posted by others.  Through a system which in many ways mirrors the concept behind microloans, creative entrepreneurs of the 21st-century are funded not by banks, corporations, investment firms, or entrepreneurial capitalist, but instead individual cyber citizens from around the globe. Each project sets a minimum required budget and posts what might be called a “business plan” which includes project related incentives promised each backer according to the financial pledge made.  Individuals can make small donations, most have a minimum of $1, or people can make substantial donations and become more directly involved in the project.  This site allows new business ideas a to flourish or parish based on their ability to convince other people on the Internet of the value of their idea and the utility of the project.

Hearing about the site reminded me of how growing up during the birth of the digital age my generation received innumerable speeches about how we would all be working in “jobs that the yet to be created.”  In my previous blog post, I wrote about the frustration felt by many in my generation about the failure of this promise to manifest immediately upon graduating from college and how in my opinion the occupied movement is a manifestation of my generation’s frustration at this failure and what is even many of the failure of the capital system.  My immediate response to hearing about Kickstarter was that this was the perfect springboard for all of those promised “jobs that have yet to be created” that I generation grew up expecting to make into their careers.

If the occupy movement is a global declaration of the “problem,” then the idea behind kickstarter is the solution.  Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the specific website is the only solution.  However, the same way that eBay and its partner PayPal revolutionized online sales, kickstarter’s application of Kiva’s microloans system to creative projects offers creative individuals a means of turning cyber capital into the financial backing necessary for taking projects from imagination to innovation.  In this, I see the paradigm shift which might be categorized as being post-capitalist.  the paradigm shift being generated by the cyber market is not Marxist or Socialist because individuals and companies are definitely capable of making substantial profits. However, the global reality of cyberspace has left governments struggling to keep legislation up to date as evidenced by the recent attempts in the United States (SOPA, PIPA) and the international treaty (ACTA) to legislate against piracy.  Cyberspace has its own morality and self-governing mechanisms which it seems only “digital natives” understand.  cyber capital is intrinsically linked to the ability of a the website, idea, video, picture, or phrase to “go viral.”  going viral can have either a positive or negative impact through the equivalent of the social sanctions of honor and shame. While many people tend to dismiss things happening online as “not real,” viral honor and viral shame can have extremely real world implications.  In the United States, News/Media outlets and general public were focused to acknowledge the “real world” implications of cyber events during the chain reaction of cyber-bullying leading to suicides which led to the It Gets Better movement and the passing of cyber-bullying laws.  But there are other concrete examples such as the temporary stock crash of AT&T, KONY2012, Clint McCance, even the importance of the youth vote and Obama Girl to Obama’s election.

While that guy from the KONY 2012 video miscalculated when saying, “there are more people on facebook today, than were on the planet 200 years ago” that doesn’t mean powerful idea he was trying to monoplize on was incorrect.   The human race is infinitely more connected today despite our ever growing population recently hitting 7 Billion.  Digital communication is so much faster, and frequently more reliable, than the News.  This has actually led to the News reporting about what is being said and done online.  However, the importance of cyberspace, digital communication, and social networking can no longer be ignored or dismissed as a passing childhood phase.  Cyber capital generated by viral honor and viral shame shapes our lives in very real ways.  As more and more people are finding ways to “make a living” in cyberspace this is one subsistence pattern which can no longer be ignored.   This paradigm shifting subsistence pattern is post-capitalism or at the very least post-neoliberalism.  In honor of its importance to the digital age and the because its value system is one of the core cultural value of cyberspace, I suggest we call this new way of getting things done OpenSource-Capitalism.  After all people are still making money… eventually, but this isn’t your father’s capitalism.

Paper Writing vs. Bloging

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I’ve been having a case of writer’s block all day…  That is to say, I’ve already written 3 posts on my blogs and started planning a new project for my boyfriend and I to work on this summer.  So, I’ll admit I’m a bit of a multitasker but who isn’t these days.

So now, instead of actually getting down to business I’m writing another blog post.  But this time I actually have productivity in mind.  I’m going to do an experiment for my next post.  The section of my paper I’ve been trying to finish for the past 24 hours, should be fairly easy to write because it is something I know a lot about.  So as a sort of  “free writing” meets blogging experiment, I’m going to trying writing this section of my paper as a blog entry and see if it frees up my writers block.  If if it works out well, I may be on to something very useful for my fieldwork and dissertation writing.

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Occupying the Future

A Vision of Students Today

This video is a little old, in internet terms at least.  It came out in 2007 while I was still in undergrad.  The video was made before college graduates of class of 2009 entered “the real world” to find by in large there was no place for them.  Here’s an old news report about it on ABC News.

The economic crisis hit home, when college graduates all across the nation realized there were no jobs waiting on them.  One of the outdated messages in this film says “when I graduate I will probably have a job that do not exist today,” it was a line we were told repeatedly growing up. In many ways, at the time at least, that statement seemed like the promise of tomorrow, the promise of a technological future.   However, we graduated and found those promised jobs we worked so hard for through high school and college, they still don’t exist.  I am not personally involved in any of the Occupy Movements, but as an anthropologist and a person that has lived through this moment in time, I’d like to point to this as the explanation and cause.  You can blame us I suppose if it makes you feel better, but anyone with a 21st century college degree isn’t lazy, dumb, or “whinny.”  College graduates of 2009, 2010, 2011, and those soon to graduate in 2012 worked hard fulfilling their obligation to Weber’s the “Protestant Work Ethic”.  Just to be admitted to college, young people of the 21st century were taught how to jump through many hoops our parents and grandparents never faced and arguably could not have passed even as adults.  We emerged from the “No Child Left Behind” Era labeled as “over achievers” in spite of ourselves.  If you don’t want to believe my biased insider view, the emic view for anthropologists, then that is fine: check out Alexandra Robbins’ book The Overachievers  or at least consider the New York Times book review of it.

Seven years down the road, I’d say we’ve fallen from grace because no matter what degree of concern adults expressed over the negative repercussions of this “overachieverness,” they were proud.  Sure it was a sign of neurosis on the national level but, hey, we were excelling at the hard-work end of the American Dream, surely it would pay off.  Yet seven years later, we are being depicted as throwing a nation-wide temper-tantrum.  Foxnews labels it a “passing outburst” in this online report and it is only one among many.  Even those who try to take the middle road seem to either find the movement unreasonable or totally missing the point.  In a Forbes article written to explain the movement to its readers, Peter Cohan proves he missed the point in this statement arguing for OWS activist to meet corporations in the middle, where he writes, “Corporations provide many benefits to society — they use people, capital, and technology to create value for consumers, employees, shareholders, and communities.”  He openly, perhaps without realizing it wrote “they use people.”   But, I’m getting off point.

My point is that the 2005 overachievers did everything asked and expected of them and more.  They graduated in 2009, if you follow the 4 year collegiate model,  then faced great difficulty getting jobs, particularly in getting jobs in their chosen field.  The United States was in no way unique in this: my first graduate school paper was on a very similar crisis in the Republic of Ireland which pushed many young people to emigrate for work.  However, I was one of the lucky ones.  I did not get a job in my field but I did find a graduate program, which I began in the fall of 2010.  This was not the case for many of my fellow graduates.  For those who might think this failure to find work is the result of laziness or a lack of earnest effort, please consider the rate of unemployment from 2009 to 2012 and the fact that most of those who have graduated during the recession are not drawing unemployment because they were students and never were employed at a full time job.  There is a gap in time between the lack of employment of college grads in May 2009 and the OWS movement which began in the summer 2011.  Despite the global economic crisis, college grads continued to look for work or apply to graduate school/law school/med school or volunteer for non-profit organizations and NGOs.  But like everyone else looking for a job, those who found an opening were lucky.  When the OWS idea was first proposed it found incredibly fertile ground and the movement spread like wildfire, to mix metaphors.  It is my hope and prayer that from the ashes, a new and better America can grow and blossom.

While this movement can in many ways be described most affectionately as organized chaos, the motivation and meaning behind it sends a message of hope for the future of America. In many ways, I think it is time to realize we’ve entered adulthood and had the weight of the world put on our shoulders, but  let’s get over the shock, disappointment, frustration, and anger…  Collectively, our generation has resources, assets, and skills beyond the wildest imaginations of our parents and grandparents, I want to see us do something. The protests and boycotts across this nation and aboard are evidence of our determination and powerful sense of right and wrong.  I am not asking for the protest to end, but I have to think this is only the beginning.  I am calling for further collaboration.  Corporations and political/governmental organizations utilize think-tanks all the time with dramatic innovative results.  We are connected in a way generations before us could not have dreamed of.  We’ve occupied the streets, now what?  There are plenty of social, political, financial, and environmental issues to go around.  Let’s put together an online think-tanks to address them.  Why let our intelligence, our education, and the energy of our youth go to waste?  Collaboration, especially online collaboration, can take place anywhere and anytime (as long as you have power and signal).  Why should we wait for anyone else to organize us?  Those jobs that we were promised, the ones that don’t exist yet?  The only solution is that we have to create them ourselves.  Our parents, our teachers, and our government, they can’t really help us with this.  So many problems have been put off by those who came before us, and put on to our shoulders.  It’s time to face those problems head on.  We’ve all got unique and invaluable skill sets and the technology and social networks to make this happen.  So pick a topic: social inequality (pick a type), the energy crisis, government encroachment on civil liberties and human rights globally and at home, chronic illness, cancer, HIV, the US health care system, global hunger/malnutrition, debt and balancing the budget (on the personal, household, institutional, and governmental levels), social change toward social accountability and respect of human dignity, citizenship and national boarders, improving US international relations, environmental repercussions of pollution and resource exploitation…  the list is endless.  Create online discussions of these issues, everyone knows you can occupy and post to blogs and facebook at the same time.  Make us of Google Plus’s “hangouts” and really get the conversations going.  Make blog post about your ideas, possible solutions, and give each other feedback.  After all, everything on the internet is peer-reviewed, so show the world that means something.  For the young people who are currently unemployeed, unemployment doesn’t mean you can’t be occupied.  Young people still in college, in graduate school, or starting your first job: we have to stay connected, no matter how busy things get.  We each have a unique and valuable skill set and set of resources to offer.  We have to build for the future, come up with practical solutions and get interdisciplinary with it.  A chemist, a political scientist, and a writer could come together and create a whole new way of seeing the world.  History shows us the great leaps forward which can be made by a person looking at a problem from more than one angle: Renee Descartes, Johnannes Kepler, Issac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Franz Boas, Albert Schweitzer,  Edward Said, Theodore Roosevelt, and Leonardo De Vinci to name a few.  We are facing a very important moment in time and a great deal of potential energy has been built up hover now is the time to direct that energy toward creating the type of future we want for ourselves and those who come after us.